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The murder that shook Iceland: the history of Byrne Bryunsdottir

A poster describing the appearance and time of the loss of Byrne Bryunsdottir. Photos Morgunblaðið

In Iceland, where about 330 thousand people live, murder is considered something completely rare. In 2015 (more recent data are not available), the country took the third place at the lowest level of violent deaths, losing only to Singapore and Liechtenstein. Therefore, when in January 2017, in a country where policemen walk around the streets without arms, the girl mysteriously disappeared, the locals faced completely new sensations.

The history of these searches and their tragic end resulted in national mourning, the echo of which is audible even a year later. Details of the criminal investigation and its results were told by The Guardian.

Missing on the island

For the native of the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik, Byrne Bryunsdottir, this day was to pass as usual. In January, the sun did not shine for more than five hours a day, so by the evening, when it was already dark, the 20-year-old girl met friends in a pub, and afterwards they went to a local club. By two o’clock in the morning the tired friends had said farewell to a friend who had decided to stay longer.

Three hours later she left the institution and headed home along the street, every 10 meters of which brightly lit lampposts. In Iceland, there is nothing unusual in that girls go alone at night – they simply can not be defended from anyone. Bryunsdottir was drunk, so at some point she dropped a small thing on the sidewalk, and then collided with a passerby. Then she walked past the Lebowski bar, inspired by the Coen Brothers film, and the coffee shop. And then she disappeared.

View of one of the main streets of Reykjavik – Leugavegur, where Bryunsdottir was last seen. Photo by Richard Kay, Flickr

When Bryunsdottir did not appear at work, her friend Maria suspected something was wrong: the girl always came on time. An old friend called the missing person, but the phone was switched off – before this never happened. Maria contacted her friend, with whom the girl was seen the day before, and together they assumed that Bryunsdottir had returned home. There she was not there. On the same day, the parents of the disappeared filed an application to the police and posted on Facebook: “Dear friends. We can not contact her, and it’s not like her. Please distribute and help in its search. ”

A couple of hours later, the post was shared several thousand times, but the girl did not have any news. Throughout the night, her mother phoned emergency services every hour, hoping at least for some news. The next morning, a message came from the police – before the Bryunsdottir phone was disconnected, its signal was recorded in the city of Habnarfjordur in the port area, nine kilometers from Reykjavik. The parents of the missing and her friends went there and began knocking at random doors, naming the girl’s name.

By evening, the mother of Bryunsdottir was in despair – her daughter did not get in touch for almost 36 hours, and she felt in it something completely opposite. The police remained inactive, not seeing the grounds for the search, but the local TV channels turned to the parents of the disappeared. Soon the news of the disappearance of a 20-year-old girl spread throughout the country.

“Can not you find her like in a movie?”

About 340 thousand inhabitants of Iceland account for 90 thousand units of purchased weapons, but they buy it for hunting, not for self-defense. Cases of abuse are minimal, which logically fits into the political situation of Iceland – this is the only state within NATO without a regular army. From 2000 to 2015, on average, no more than two people were killed a year in the country, and mostly they were young people who were familiar with each other. In 2008, there were no murders in the country, and the police patrol the streets without weapons and in free minutes eat ice cream, making selfies .

When in the evening the detective Grimur Grímsson (Grímur Grímsson) was called from the department and reported the loss of the girl, he immediately went to the station. In his 30 years, the investigator did not spend time consuming sweets at his post – in the 1990s he was in the area of ​​Westfirdir, where more than 30 people died under a snow avalanche. Since 2009, he worked for more than six years in the prosecutor’s office and was engaged in criminal cases of fraud, which led to the closure of the country’s three largest banks.

The police in Reykjavik. Getty Photos

While Grimsson was going to the police station, he was not worried – every month in Iceland they report the loss of several people: hunters, tourists, difficult teenagers, drug addicts or elderly people with dementia. Young people basically returned quickly after spending the night with friends. Studying the recording of CCTV cameras, the detective watched as the girl dropped a trifle and collided with a stranger, and then turned the corner. But the video from the next camera Bryunsdottir was no longer: either she left the sidewalk to the side, or sat in a passing car.

Reconsidering the record, the investigators noticed a small red Kia Rio, which was traveling in the opposite direction. The car turned around the corner 30 seconds before the missing person did – could she sit there? It is possible, the detectives decided, but the quality of the video did not allow us to see the number of the car, and more than 100 cars of the same model and color fit the description from the picture.

“Can not you find her the same way as in a movie?” – the mother of the missing Silla nervously asked when she saw the recording from the cameras. “So it does not work,” Grimsson said dryly.

Country of Dating

The stereotype that everyone knows everyone in Iceland is an exaggeration, but if I say to one Icelander about another, they will probably have a mutual acquaintance. The inhabitants of the country have a strong feeling that any person is a valuable part of society, and if someone needs help, it must be provided. “Everyone here is engaged in things for which they do not get paid, whether it’s singing in the choir or organizing a sports team. It helps us feel valuable and important. Not always a useful property, but it is beautiful, “- says Icelandic writer in the genre of crime Lilja Sigurdardottir (Lilja Sigurdardottir).

Grimsson was appointed lead investigator on the case of the missing Bryaunsdottir, and soon joined the search for the Icelandic Search and Rescue Association (Ice-Sar). The organization consists of professional volunteers, and the history of its appearance stretches from the beginning of the 20th century. Community members believe that ordinary people usually only interfere in the search, but this criticism does not stop individual volunteers.

The first evidence on the case of the loss found two brothers just over 20 years old – they went to the zone where they last recorded the signal of the phone Bryunsdottir, on an abandoned building found her shoes. After checking the records of the CCTV cameras in the port nearby, Grimsson noticed the red Kia Rio, which parked near the docks around six in the morning (the girl left the club at about five in the morning). From the passenger seat of the car came a drunken man and slowly walked towards the ship. Then the car left.

This time, the license plates could be seen – the car was rented by 25-year-old Thomas Olsen from Greenland. He returned the transport to the appointed time and since then a young family has been driving by car. When the investigators found the car, it became obvious that they had recently cleaned it – the new landlords complained about the chemical smell in the cabin. With a thorough examination of the rear seat, experts found traces of blood – because Iceland does not have a well-developed forensic laboratory, a blood sample was sent to Sweden for analysis.

The Polar Nanoq. Photos Morgunblaðið

Three days later, with the disappearance of Bryunsdottir, the Polar Nanoq ship, in which the only suspects left the country were Thomas Olsen and his friend Nikolai Olsen (not a relative), stopped fishing in Greenland. At some point, Thomas received a notification on the phone – Icelandic journalists found out about his involvement in the case, figured out a group of fishers in Facebook and asked Olsen if he knew who rented the car. The troubled sailor told the captain about it, and he advised not to worry if he had nothing to hide.

At this time, Grimsson’s team studied the options for capturing suspects: a police helicopter brought four investigators to a Danish warship, from where they planned to negotiate with the local police department for assistance in arrest (Greenland is part of Denmark). Icelandic detective confused only one thing – the operation took time, and the longer they hesitated, the more likely the suspects could destroy the evidence.

Help came from an unexpected side: the captain of the ship read the news about the loss of the girl and suspected members of his team in connection with what had happened. He decided to turn the ship back to Iceland, explaining this to the crew with a malfunctioning engine, and turned off Wi-Fi so that the suspects could not read the news.

Although Iceland does not have special forces, there are elite fighters with terrorism inside the police department. The next morning after the promise of Captain Polar Nanoq to deploy the ship to the deck from the helicopter six members of the Viking Squadron landed and arrested Thomas and Nikolai. 12 hours later the ship entered the port of Habnarfjordur.

Public change

While the whole of Iceland followed the development of the case, in cafes and bars residents regularly checked the news line and shared the theories of what had happened. “This reflects the ultimate fear of society: a young innocent girl is attacked in a calm area. In addition to this, the suspects turn out to be foreigners, which only increases the tension, “explains sociology professor at the University of Iceland Helgi Gunnlaugsson.

With the discussion came rumors: allegedly the body of the missing was found in the river or she was taken hostage on a Greenland ship together with other girls. Grimsson and the police had to dispel these rumors, while continuing to search for the body. When the ship entered the port with the suspects, the police had to encircle the pier to monitor the assembled crowd.

During the interrogation, both sailors answered equally, although they gave testimony separately. According to them, on January 11, 2017 The Polar Nanoq entered the Icelandic port to recruit new members of the team, but several people decided to take a walk around the city, including Thomas and Nikolai. The first rented a red Kia Rio and took the second closer to the night, when he heavily touched the bar.

Thomas Olsen (left) and Nikolai Olsen. Collage Iceland Magazine

Both men claimed that two girls got into the car, but Nikolai explained that he was drunk and does not remember well what was happening. Thomas drove a friend to the port, where it was fixed by a security camera. After that, Thomas climbed into the backseat to two girls – one of them was Bryunsdottir – and kissed her. According to the sailor, an hour later he threw the girls to the crossroads and left.

Judging by the recordings of the CCTV cameras, Nikolay’s testimony was true – he was very drunk and left the car at about six in the morning. But his friend’s testimony was more questionable: he got to record cameras in a store where he bought clothes, plastic bags and detergent. Thomas explained that he was trying to wipe the seat off the seat, but then the Swedish criminologists joined in.

They confirmed that the blood in the backseat belongs to the missing girl, and in the proof they processed part of the machine with luminol – in contact with the drops of blood, this chemical gives a bright blue glow. “The car was shining,” the Icelandic investigator would later say at the trial.

At the same time, the police studied Thomas’s room on the ship and found 23 kilograms of hash with an estimated cost of almost 1.5 million dollars. Among the things also found the driver’s license of the disappeared girl. It became obvious that the sailor was involved in the loss of Bryunsdottir, but Grimson still did not even come close to finding the body.

A week after the loss, local residents launched the largest search operation in the history of Iceland – only the search organization allocated 835 people and 87 vehicles, not including individual volunteers. “Today she is our sister, our daughter” – this became our mantra, “says the manager of Ice-Sar search organization Guðbrandur Örn.” We do not live in a society where we tolerate the abduction of a 20-year-old girl ” .

Approximately at noon the day after the search began, the Coast Guard helicopter noticed something partially submerged in the water near the bright orange lighthouse of Selvogsviti. Getting closer, the officer realized – this is the body of the missing girl.

National funerals

The ceremony of parting with Bryunsdottir was joined by residents of all major cities of Iceland, as well as Greenland and Denmark. In Reykjavik, thousands of people came to the streets, leaving candles and flowers in the place where the girl disappeared. Her funeral was held in Hadlgrimskirkie – the largest church in the country, where among the 2000 gathered was the president and prime minister of the country.

Farewell ceremony with Birna Bryunsdottir. Photos Morgunblaðið

Only a couple of weeks after the closure of the case, the mother of the deceased decided to find out the details of what happened. Grimsson and the police chief were ready to talk: although the body was found naked, no traces of sexual violence were found, the girl was beaten and strangled, but when Thomas threw it into the water and left, she was still alive. The autopsy revealed – Iceland choked.

Nicholas was released after two weeks of detention, when the police decided that he was not involved in the crime. Despite clear evidence, Thomas never admitted to the murder. His motives are unknown. On March 30, 2017, the sailor was charged with possession of drugs and murder – all three judges found him guilty on both counts and sentenced to 19 years in prison.

Memorial in memory of Byrne Bryunsdottir. Photos Morgunblaðið

More than a year after the tragedy in the streets of Reykjavik, there are many more cameras – arguments about excessive surveillance have lost all meaning. The tragic case did not bring the country full-scale changes, but, as The Guardian writes, it is only necessary to ask the Icelander about this case, and he will say that this affected people.

The murder coincided with a period of strong economic growth, a tourist boom, an influx of migrants for work and foreign investment. For the psychology of the indigenous people of a small country, such drastic changes can not pass unnoticed. As the local Asoociated Press correspondent Egil Bjarnason says, the death of a young girl somehow combines this concern of people about a new era.

The mother of the murdered girl Silla constantly wears a medallion around her neck with a photograph of her daughter. She tries to focus on good memories of her, sometimes spending time with her things. Although she is grateful to people for their attention and support, she does not like the idea of ​​an annual memorial day in memory of the deceased as a way to encourage Icelanders to “stay together”.

This makes no sense. I go crazy when people say that the country is once again united. This is a fantasy: a beautiful country in the cold north, where everyone lives together. I do not think that it would be right for Iceland to think of itself as something special in this case.

Silla Bryounsdottir
inhabitant of Iceland
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